In short, Wot Erica M. Anderson Has Been Doin’ Since She Stopped Gowns. In personal-Gillen, Wot I’ve Been Listening Too Obsessively For The Last Week And Pretty Much Colours The Entire Last Issue Of The Fear Itself Tie-Ins Of Journey Into Mystery.
That’s California, and not my entrance point, but the video they’ve done for the release of the album. It’s also the one which I’ve been playing most out of – in fact, it’s found its way onto my Uncanny X-men play list, as well as the Journey Into Mystery headspace. It’s the one on the album that most reminds me of Gowns, despite not really sounding like them at all. The majority of the album is a little more traditional than it… which is why it reminds me most of Gowns, I guess. The opening tidal drums are layered with this drunken modulated wave of sound, and then split open with the “Fuck California – You Made Me Boring”. Drunken is the word, with the monologue meandering as the song does, the two directions pulling back and forth with each other, like a waltzing wedding couple at the end of a week long wedding party.
WHAT DOES FAILURE TASTES LIKE?
TO ME, IT TASTES LIKE DIRT.
Is the only lyric I recognise coming back twice over, which makes it the chorus. Or at least, whatever counts at the chorus in this neighbourhood, which is kinda the point.
(Or maybe it’s the bit where she mentions California, and then it sways back and forth a little.)
(Or the only-once I’m Just 22, I Don’t Mind Dying, etc.)
The Grey Ship’s the opening track of the album, and the first single from the back end of last year. I didn’t initially love it as much as California – I fear it’ll become the Zero in It’s Blitz, in terms of its immediate album-based successor being something I dig so much it becomes something I habitually skip – but it’s still an expansive piece of music and worthy of devotion. And I wanted to break the post up, as I’m aware I’m ranting. As anyone who’s been on IM with me will realise.
Anyway – Past Life Martyred Saints is on Spotify, and I recommend you try it. I loved Red State – and my Plan B article on Gowns is attached to the bottom of this – but where I wrote in my end-of-year-list in 2007 that “Some bands sound cinematic. Gowns sound literary” EMA makes me think about pure, pure music and the dance of voice and noise, and urban pastoralism. And lots of other stuff.
Right. Enough. Here’s the piece I wrote under commissioning from the mighty Kicking K for Plan B.
2005. Gowns had been stared at up and down the East Coast. They’d felt out of place throughout; or more specifically, without a place. They used noise, but were clearly not Noise. There was folk beneath it all, but uglified beyond the genre’s common meaning. Their adherence to the skeletons of structure took them away from anything really Free but they certainly weren’t anything that could just be filed easily next to Rock. Erica Anderson (Ex-Amps for Christ and Blue Silk Sutures) and Ezra Buchla (Ex-Mae Shi) were feeling a heavy case of the Misunderstandings. “I think it’s common and possibly healthy for bands to feel that way though,” Erica notes, “That they don’t quite fit in or that they are doing something different.”
They headed away, recovering, finding themselves splintered away in the hide of America. South Dakota’s about half again the size of England, but has a population of less than a million humans. Maybe less actual souls. It’s Erica’s place of origin. “The kind of conservative no-man’s land in the middle of the country that has somehow been outvoting the rest of the nation for the past 6 years,” She explains, “It’s kind of scary. South Dakota is the place where they recently tried to pass a law completely banning abortion, with no provisions taken for rape, incest or a woman’s health and safety.” Staying there, where people told them how best to cut meth with grape-kool aid if they were going to shoot it (they weren’t planning to, but they told them anyway) but whose check-out staff didn’t know what “Tofu” was, among nineteenth century gravestones with the word “Baby” carved into it, near Indian burial sites where stoners were slaughtered by escaped prisoners in the sixties they hid in a lakeside cabin on the prairie beneath sky slashed with lighting and crafted the core of their future. Scared a little in this red state, they recorded an album by the same name and of the same feelings.
All they took from Dakota was the half-complete Red State, which was obsessively mixed in the following year. Moving from LA to SF, they found themselves in the aging Victorian manse in North Berkley where Erza was born and the band practices today, with newly acquired multi-percussionist Corey Fogel… and a completed album.
The later I listen to Red State the more I like it. It’s an invitation to ruin your sleep patterns, just so you can nestle up next to something uncomfortable and really feel it sink its tiny barbs into and p-u-l-l. It manages the trick of sounding both the result of laborious work, while still sounding natural (Note: Not same thing as organic). It’s natural in the way that anything left to decay looks natural; ruins in a landscape not as desecrating rubble but as an object that can be stumbled upon and delivers a moment of private revelation. It’s formally brilliant. It’s deeply atmospheric. There’s even some bits you can sing along to.
For a product of obsession, from the way the band talk about their methods, the songs end up seeming like the results a kind of reverse archeology. An original artifact lies in the heart of each song, then delicately treated with reiterated patinas, seeing how the applied dust lies, then progressesing to the next layer. “I’ve never felt the need to make some broad stylistic decision,” Ezra argues, “I tend to think of style as a statistical structure, the accumulation of many decisions, not as a top-down set of rules for making those decisions.” “When i listen to it i can hear pieces of almost all of the music I’ve ever liked,” Erica says, “’60s vocal harmonies coming through an AM radio, talking, whispers, howling, yelping; low drones, high static. There is an aesthetic present that is full of signifiers to me, like the sound of a fuzzy walkie-talkie or a distant, feedbacked piano.”
They admit the record’s more psychedelic than their earlier work, but — a key point — it’s an “over-the-counter” form of psychedelia. Cheap booze, cheap pills and your surroundings are enough. It’s folk which admits the way to resonate with the modern environment is to echo with the timbre and shape and sounds of it. It’s sad voices and stories, sound processes eating itself alive, the cough of old building’s pipes death-rattling at night and a sky so big that all your thoughts unravel. It really is something.